At 494 Stevens Avenue in Portland, you will find a bright, inviting yellow house, now home to a business, that simply beckons you inside. This bright, cheery store is The Honey Exchange, and it offers a wide range of products, including honey and honey bi-products as well as mead, wine, and all décor that is bee-related. I was charmed the moment I walked through the entry and was welcomed by one of the owner / operators, Meghan Gaven. She and her husband, Phil, are beekeepers who have turned this retail operation into a place where people of all ages can learn about honey, the bees that make it, watch these bees at work in their Observation Hive, and purchase honey and related goods.
In addition to the storefront aspect of their work, Meghan and Phil, who recently received his Master Beekeeper Certificate, act as connectors and supporters of the local beekeeping community. People who may not have the space to keep bees, but would like to have the opportunity, as well as those who perhaps have the space and even the hives, but not the desire or time to beekeep, both approach them and the Gavens work to connect these individuals. They also provide a number of classes, taught in their back room, to educate new beekeepers and others about the care and significance of these special insects and the honey they create.
Meghan was friendly, down-to-earth, and took the time to briefly chat with my mother, my sister, and me about their work in beekeeping, extracting honey, and assisting other beekeepers with the extraction process. They named their establishment The Honey Exchange because it is, in a fundamental sense, an exchange. They harvest their own honey as well as others, and in return, jar and market the honey, labeling each container with information about the origin of the honey and the bees that made it. Meghan also spends part of her time educating children about bees and their work, and how critical they are to keeping our world blossoming (pun intended).
Like most of you, I have appreciated honey for a long time – using it to sweeten coffee and tea, smearing it on toast with butter and cinnamon, and even mixing it with soy sauce to make a sweet sauce for beets. In addition to being tasty and natural (a vast improvement over Splenda and other manmade sweeteners), one of the things I love about honey is its nutritional benefit; as a natural anti-inflammatory, honey is an excellent addition to the diet of a runner like me. To learn more about honey and its nutritional benefits, check out this blog entry by Anne Pierce, a Master Nutritionist in Denver, CO. Because this nutritional benefit is important to me, I feel compelled to share one of the more surprising things I learned from Meghan: she recommended that I look closely at the label when purchasing honey – because some products that are labeled “honey” may have very little honey – or absolutely no honey – in them at all! Natural honey, particularly some types, tends to crystallize quickly – so some manufacturers use a very minimal amount of real honey in their “honey” products to prolong its syrupy texture and appearance. My recommendation: buy your honey from a reputable, local source… like The Honey Exchange.
My first venture into The Honey Exchange took place during a Thanksgiving trip to Maine in 2011, shortly after they opened. My mother has raved about it to me many times and she promised to take me in. When I began this blog, I knew I wanted to feature The Honey Exchange (and places like it), so I returned during our Christmas trip to gain the additional information I needed. The Honey Exchange is an excellent representation of a Maine entrepreneurial endeavor – its owners, Phil and Meghan Gaven, make their living as owners of this small business – a business that not only contributes to the economy, but also serves an important environmental need by promoting the beekeeping industry and educating people about bees, these unique insects that truly make our world go round. A perfect example of the significance of bees in pollinating our world relates to the Maine blueberry industry – it takes 50,000 hives to pollinate Maine’s 60,000 plus acres of wild blueberries (because this number is so high, many hives actually have to be trucked in from out-of-state). For more on the Maine blueberry, see my HoME Grown post here.
I highly recommend venturing in to see this wonderful store – you will have a chance to support the local economy and learn about the important role bees play in our day-to-day life. It’s bigger than we realize, and we could all take a lesson from this approach to life – do something you are called to do, however simple or complex, work hard at it, and prosperity will follow.
Learn more about The Honey Exchange online at thehoneyexchange.com or reach them by phone at 207.773.9333.